Trimming The Fat

   For me there’s few things as upsetting as editing my writing. Well, wait, that’s not true, I really like editing my work when I am doing the editing but when it comes to someone else, well…I think loathe is letting the act get off a little easy. There is just something so clinical and cold to it all that it really rubs me the wrong way…when someone else does it.

Ah, and there’s the rub.

Now, I am not going to tell anyone that I am some genius that can edit their own work and can make stories into pieces of magic that transcend the page. No. That isn’t me. BUT I can tell you that I know the story I want to tell and know it pretty well. And in knowing the story I want to tell I am a pretty good person to go back to find errors, fix errors, and fill out the story where it’s a little weak. I know what the story is trying to be, and in that, I am a pretty good person to get it to where it is heading.

Ah, but not always.

Because sometimes you’re just too darn close and you NEED other eyes on the work. You need someone else to look at it and tell you what you’re missing, where the story is weak, and can sometimes tell you the brutal truth when something just doesn’t work.

And the truth then is brutal, and it hurts, but if it’s a longer work, if it’s a big work it’s easy to lose sight of the road you’re on and easier to stray off into unnecessary tangents. You are just too close to the work to get a good feel for what needs to be done so you need someone to step in and to pull you back onto the path again. But there’s a fine line there, a very, very fine line in how to do it.

My issue with editing and editors specifically is that they are looking at the story the in a way that benefits THEM – they are helping to shape the story that THEY want to read, and I guess that’s fine if it’s their book that the piece is going in, or if it is something they commissioned, but outside of that the editor has to be VERY cautious on how they mold that work. An editor is great for grammar, for repetition, and for the mechanics of what makes a piece work. An editor knows the cold mechanics of all of this, but what they don’t know is the emotional context and the reasoning behind it. They don’t always appreciate the writer’s stylistic choices, choices which oft times SEEM repetitious and awkward yet are part of the story.

I have gone through that more than a few times where editors felt that aspects of my style didn’t work, and where they wanted to re-shape the story to fit what they wanted it to be. Now, I was putting these stories into their publications so I wasn’t going to really argue much beyond the cursory bit of standing my ground because it’s THEIR release, not mine, but I also made sure that whatever changes I made were only for THAT version of the work and that when it came time to release it myself I would put MY version out then. Because I would rather the story be a tad awkward and reflect MY vision than be something that reflects someone else’s vision because it’s MY story, not theirs. Something I do wonder if editors forget.

The writer, love it or hate it, is an artist, just an artist that uses words and I wonder if too often the artistry of what they are doing, or trying to do, is lost under the axe of an editor. And heck, we need editors to make sure we don’t let fail something that could be special were it not for some simple mistakes. I needed one on the novel because my grammar is poor at best and some things needed to be tightened. And I lucked out in getting a friend to do it that respected the vision of what I was trying to do and they helped me make the book better. Ah, but my editor on the novel also brought distance with them, a distance that didn’t get them involved too deeply in the shaping of the book beyond the cosmetics. And I suppose that’s my personal preference – I would rather my story, my book, fail because of me, because I didn’t do my job than to have someone step in and change what I intended the work to be. I would rather fail or succeed by  my own hand rather than trust someone else to do what is right, what is best.

In saying all of this I have to admit that I am very, very curious what the relationship with an author and an editor are like when it comes to professional work because I bet you it’s a lot different. I would like to think so at least. In MY mind I picture the editor and writer sitting down to discuss changes, ideas, reasoning, and together shaping the book. It still would feel weird to me, but an editor is like a music producer – there to help you ‘sound’ better, but again, it’s a find line between making sure the sound is clean and the song moving forward and the producer/editor stepping in to change the music, the tune, or add or subtract something that they don’t fully appreciate.

Writers need editors. It’s just a simple fact. We need them because we don’t always get it right. We don’t always make the path clear. And in a perfect relationship the editor will come in and make sure that the story moves forward with as few obstacles as possible and will guide the author forward so that they can make sure that they feel the work still reflects their ideals and vision. And if that isn’t the goal of the editor, well, maybe they need to look into other work.


Author: Chris Ringler

Writer, blogger, reviewer, artist, arts and cultural events coordinator, and semi-professional weirdo. Author of a heap of books from horror to fairy tale to kid's.

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